Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin heckles Obama repeatedly

President Obama had a run-in with a heckler on Thursday, when a founder of the anti-war group Code Pink interrupted his speech on drone policy and other national security issues.

Toward the end of Obama’s address, a woman identified in the White House pool report as Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the anti-war organization Code Pink, implored the president to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and otherwise criticized his foreign policy.

Through three separate episodes, the president traded words with the woman, asking her to let him finish and succeeding -- at least momentarily -- twice.

“Why don’t you sit down, and I will tell you exactly what I’m going to do,” Obama said, ending their first exchange. “Thank you, ma’am.”

But soon, Benjamin was back, apparently not happy with Obama’s comments about sending detainees to other countries, pleading with him to "release them today." She was again quieted, and Obama even acknowledged her opinion was valid.


Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin dances with Tighe Barry, dressed as Thomas Jefferson, at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., in June 2011. (Bill O'Leary / THE WASHINGTON POST)

"Part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also you listening and me being able to speak," Obama said, adding: “I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack, because it’s worth being passionate about. Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw?”

Shortly thereafter, though, she spoke up again.

"You are commander in chief! You can close Guantanamo today!" Benjamin shouted. "You can release those 86 prisoners!"

"It's been 11 years!" she said.

"Let me finish," Obama pleaded with her.

"I love my country. I love the rule of law!” she said as she was finally removed by security. “Abide by the rule of law. You're a constitutional lawyer!”

Obama then tried to lighten up the situation, but he again said Benjamin deserved to be heard.

“I’m going off-script, as you might have expected,” he said with a laugh. “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn’t listening to me and much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”

Benjamin, 60, launched Code Pink as an anti-war women's group in 2002. Before that, she formed Global Exchange, a human rights advocacy organization in San Francisco.

She has focused on drone warfare in recent years, authoring a 2012 book called "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control."

Updated at 5:39 p.m.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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